If you missed this game, you missed a great one.
Once again, Cardinal fans filled Worthen Arena with their love of basketball, as well as their displeasure with referees. As Ball State (13-5, 4-1 MAC) took down Western Michigan (6-12, 2-3 MAC), the crowd was again instrumental in the one-point victory.
“Three games in a row here that we'll be thanking the crowd. They played a huge role tonight. Their energy, their noise, they tried to help the officials. The whole thing. I love it,” head coach Michael Lewis said. “The students were fantastic. We're going to try to continue to play hard and compete and put a product out there that those people appreciate.”
Competing and playing hard is exactly what they did. It was a physical game, with a total of 39 fouls called between both teams. This kind of play is common in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and to redshirt junior Jarron Coleman, it’s important to adapt to this play style.
“One thing about the MAC, no matter from the top to the bottom, each team's gonna compete and play the hardest and scrap,” he said. “To be a winning team in the MAC you gotta play hard every game because if you don't, you're gonna get outplayed and they're gonna work harder than you, so we’re getting the identity of being the hardest playing team in the game and that's our focus.”
Coleman only finished with nine points on Saturday against Miami (OH), his lowest since the exhibition game at the beginning of the season. Today not only did he score 22 points, he recorded eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals, as well as zero turnovers. For Lewis, this is what Coleman has been missing.
“You know that he's always been a scorer but he's becoming a much more complete player and efficient player. So while we appreciate the 22, the seven assists and zero turnovers were huge,” he said.
The Missouri transfer stepped up big time for his team in the second half, posting 15 of his 22 in the period. For him, though, nothing changed from Saturday.
“Today shots fell, the other day they didn't. Just getting my teammates involved and doing whatever I gotta do to win is all that matters…” he said. “I [have] faith in my teammates all the time. We call whoever's number, we [have] a lot of numbers we can call.”
A second-half shift in focus was an evident need for the entire team. At the end of the first, the Cardinals only led by two points, thanks to a late one-legged three-pointer from Coleman.
“Offensively we weren't ourselves in the first half. Second half, we got a little bit more [like] us,” he said. “Defensively late we got some big stops and really competed in the last possession.”
One of the most memorable plays of the season occurred early on in the second half. Following a Western Michigan miss, Coleman led a fast break for Ball State. Spotting that Sophomore Jaylin Sellers was trailing him, he made a flashy behind-the-back pass. Sellers, with no regard for the defender in front of him, gave the fans something to shout about plus the foul.
The last few possessions captured what Indiana basketball is all about, with the entire stadium on its feet and a deafening sound carrying through the air. After a strong and-one layup from Redshirt Sophomore Mickey Pearson to give Ball State the lead, the Cardinals finished the game with a strong defensive stop.
Although it was a back-and-forth game (18 lead changes), Ball State never faltered. Sophomore Payton Sparks, who finished with 14 points (6-10 FG), says that’s a common theme of this team.
“Every game is a battle. You can't get too high. I can't get too low. I feel like our team is resilient and can come back at any point in time.”
Ball State faces probably its toughest test yet in conference leader Kent State (15-3, 5-0 MAC) on the road on Friday, Jan. 20 at 6:30.